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Ivory with Virgin and Child

Egypt, 7th-8th century


This unusually large ivory carving, its shape corresponding to the shape of a tusk, shows the Christ Child embracing his mother in a pose of tender intimacy. It is one of the earliest examples of what in later Byzantine times was called Eleousa, or "Virgin of Tenderness." The relief was likely to have been used for private devotion, in either a monastic or domestic setting, as an icon. Especially striking and typical of the early medieval period in Christian Egypt are the Virgin's large head, fixed gaze, and angular drapery.

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